LINGUIST List 6.435

Sun 26 Mar 1995

Sum: Whatever happened to HAD /'D?

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  1. , Summary: Whatever happened to 'd?

Message 1: Summary: Whatever happened to 'd?

Date: Fri, 24 Mar 1995 15:16:32 Summary: Whatever happened to 'd?
From: <>
Subject: Summary: Whatever happened to 'd?

A few weeks ago I posted a query to the List regarding the disappearance
of HAD or its contracted form 'D, in such expressions as SHE BETTER
STOP, which appeared in a recent academic publication. I questioned
people's attitudes towards the standardisation of this new form
(BETTER), the subsequent status of the bare infinitive (STOP), the
possibility of its association with the extraposed construction IT IS
BETTER THAT SHE STOP, (implying a subjunctive analysis of STOP) and the
likelihood of substituting another adjective (e.g. GOOD) in place of
better has a result of this. I also questioned the possibility of
inverting BETTER with the subject in interrogatives, given the analysis
of it as an auxiliary form.

I received 26 replies, and I would like to thank the following people
who sent their comments, and anyone who is yet to do so:

Tamara Al-Kasey; Eleanor Olds Batchelder; Jonathon Berg; Claudia
Brugman; Marsha Bundman; Ellen Contini-Morava; Max Copperman; John Cowan
(Logical Language Group) David Fertig; Frederik Fouvry; Dorine Houston;
Marge Jackman; Roger Lass; Deborah D. Kela Ruuskanen; James Kirchner;
Timothy Miller; Catherine Rudin; Raphael Salkie; Alena Sanusi; Hal
Schiffman; Jane Simpson; Dan Slobin; Frits Stuurman; Larry Trask; Ivan
Uemlianen; Max Wheeler.

Of 18 replies to the question of standardisation, 9 replied that it was
not to be considered standard, 9 thought that it was either normal,
informal or OK, and 8 did not consider this question.

Nobody liked the analysis of STOP as a subjunctive, 2 people considering
that the extraposed derivation sounded educated or stilted.One reply
considered that STOP was an imperative form. Four people replied that
BETTER was an auxiliary, 7 thought it was a modal or semi-modal, and 2
thought that the construction was simply idiomatic. John Cowan made
mention of the use of BETTER in Yiddish-influenced American English as a
sentence prefix: 'Better she shouldn't go'.

With regard to its inversion in interrogatives, 9 people considered SAI
was not OK, one person thought it OK to invert in tags, and only one
person thought main clause SAI sounded OK.

I also want to thank Frederik Fouvry for his reference:
"Information based syntax and semantics" (HPSG vol.1, Pollard & Sag,
1987) in which BETTER is analysed as an auxiliary that doesn't allow
inversion; and Frits Stuurman for his references and comments:
In G.Gazdar, G. Pullum, & I. Sag (1982) "Auxiliaries and related
phenomena in a restricted theory of phrase structure" _Language_59,3:
591-638, pp. 610-611, there is a reference to AREN'T as a similar case
(AREN'T I vs. I AREN'T); and in Gazdar, E. Klein, Pullum & Sag (1985)
_Generalized Phrase Structure Grammar_(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP), p.
64, and Gazdar, Pullum & Sag (1982), p. 611, footnote 17, there are
references to different meanings of modals like SHALL and MIGHT when
inverted for interrogatives. Frits Stuurman also cites a GPSG reference
to the use of BETTER in P. Sells (1985) _Lectures on Government-Binding
Theory, Generalized Phrase Structure Grammar, and Lexical-Functional
Grammar_ (Stanford: CSLI), p. 93.

Many people found analogies with other modals that do not invert, e.g.
Claudia Brugman mentions the difficulty of inverting 'She has to stop')
*'Has she to stop?' and GOTTA is equally impossible to invert. James
Kirchner also mentions OTTA as a similar case. Tamara Al-Kasey compares
the negative and the affirmative interrogatives: *'Had she better stop?'
and 'Hadn't she better stop?' suggesting that the latter is more

Other interesting items were: the VP-deletion version, observed by Max
Wheeler 'We better had'; and at least 2 people considered that HAD seems
to return only for inversion for interrogatives. Generally, the use of
inversion of BETTER + subject was considered more common in tags,
especially amongst children or teenagers, and Jane Simpson thinks that
the tag BETTERN'T YOU is now appearing in Australian English, with or
without the preceding 'D. Ivan Uemlianen (British speaker from Northern
England) claims he had always used the tag 'Bettern't I?' as a child,
which had always struck him as not quite right, and had never heard of
the HAD until he heard it being used in old films. Dan Slobin considers
the use of HAD to be archaic, or from another variety or era, although
the inversion 'Better she go?' does not appear in the speech of
American-English preschoolers in their data. One respondent didn't know
where the HAD came from, and another reanalysed it as WOULD, in the same
way as it has been reanalysed in conditional protases. Another
suggestion was that it was analogous to a pluperfect auxiliary without
tense.Two replied that the expression SHE BETTER STOP was just an
example of sloppy editing.

There was little discussion of phonological processes, but, in
particular, I found interesting the following comments by Roger Lass:

"In my dialect anyhow (New York City middle class), it's certainly
normal to say (and sometimes, in less formal registers, to write),

I better, you better, he better, we better, they better ...

Observe though: all the pronouns end with a vowel, and there are
alternative forms, e.g. I'd better ... though these are much less

There is however another type, which is sometimes taken to be better but
isn't: you[b]better, where there's a sort of geminate or at least
half-long consonant.

The very fact that none of the syntactic things you mark with * or ?
seem to occur would be an indication that there has not really been any
kind of reanalysis, but rather an institutionalization of a fast-speech
deletion and/or assimilation, which is creeping up into slower styles
(as often happens).

In fact the construction itself is weird anyhow, since you had
Comparative doesn't seem to exist, except in archaisms like 'I'd liefer
do that' (I can't use it, but I've heard it). Note also, it's just
occurred to me, that you don't get deletion of -'d in *I rather do that
... "

This last comment I think gives us plenty of scope for more discussion.

Debbie Ziegeler
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